INSPIRATION: Dr Stephen Watiti ~ Living with HIV in Uganda

Posted July 5, 2011 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Featured ~ 4,050 views


The Guardian, UK ~ Dr. Stephen Watiti is senior medical officer at Mildmay hospital, near Kampala. The physician treats people living with HIV and believes he has been HIV positive since 1986. He writes a weekly column – HIV, with Dr Watiti – in the daily newspaper New Vision. He is also an HIV ambassador for Tearfund.

Life for someone living with HIV or Aids in Uganda is hard. It’s something I know from personal experience. There is no doubt that things have improved since the height of the epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, when people were dying with no care and treatment. But new infections and Aids-related deaths are still high today.

As a doctor, I regularly treat and advise people living with HIV. Out of the 414 centres accredited by the Ministry of Health to provide antiretroviral (ARV) treatment only 210 are operational – and it is common for them to run out of essential drugs.

Of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in Uganda more than 500,000 need ARVs, but only 238,000 are able to access them. The coverage of programmes preventing mother to child transmission is at about 50%, which means babies are still being born with HIV, something that can so easily be prevented. Every year we see 110,000 new infections and approximately the same number lose their lives to Aids-related illnesses. Thirty years into the epidemic, stigma is still rife and this continues to hinder basic service delivery, such as voluntary counselling and testing.

The biggest challenge for people living with HIV in Uganda is our poor health service. The infrastructure is weak and our medical personnel are poorly paid. Even if, like me, you are one of the lucky ones fortunate enough to access ARVs, you still live with the ever-present fear of death due to the lack of government investment in healthcare. Despite the government’s pledge to spend 15% of its budget on healthcare, it only spends about 10%.

Many people living with HIV are turned away when they register for care. Some 90% of the money used to purchase ARVs in my country is from donors. Yes, Uganda is a poor country, but we can afford to buy fighter jets and spend more on military hardware than on health and education.

There has been an attempt by government to increase funding for HIV and Aids care, but 2010 came and went without meeting the target to provide universal access to treatment for people living with HIV. We still have more than 100,000 new infections a year, including 25,000 infections from mother to child. Clearly target 6.A and 6.B of MDG6 will never be achieved by my country at this rate.

The international community can help by increasing funding so that all the 500,000 people living with HIV in Uganda can access the ARVs they need. But they can also help by engaging with our government to ensure there is a sustainability plan and encouraging them to invest more of its budget in health, especially in HIV and Aids care.

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.